Cheeky Gift-Giving

I remember I wanted to crumple the piece of paper and throw it back into the hat. Instead I shoved it into my pocket and whispered something to the girl next to me. Her displeased face matched mine.

Anyone who’s done Secret Santa as a child knows how it can go from great to depressing in a second. Besides, we were too old for that, many of us protested. That might have been acceptable in middle school, but certainly not in high school…But there was no getting out of it, our form master decided it was a great activity that would bring us closer.

For me, all it represented was more salt on the wound, another reminder that my closest friends weren’t going to the same high school, another reminder that my current classmates were boring cowards, whereas my middle school ones were still mentioned in a whispered reverent tone. Thick as thieves we were, clever, with much above average results, and also unstoppable when it came to naughty, crazy pranks. The greatness we could have achieved, had we managed to stay together in high school…

Sure, there was a modicum of control over the possible outcome of Secret Santa, I knew that for a fact; but what was the point in bothering to cheat if you don’t even care to play the game? The way I saw it, there was nothing in it for me. My boyfriend and best friend were at another school; the only cute boy already liked me, so I didn’t need to get his attention; plus, I was going to exchange small symbolic presents with the very few persons I found tolerable anyway. But there we were, the form master didn’t want anyone to feel left out, so I had to get a gift for… for that guy.

Images of previous years flashed through my mind and I shared a bit of melancholy with the girl next to me. We’d been classmates in middle school, so she knew exactly what I was going through. The time I “happened” to extract the name of the boy I liked and give him the perfect present, his favourite band’s latest album, which I knew he really, really wanted. Then we danced together so many times at that Christmas party, and mistletoe was of course a great excuse for a shy kiss on the lips. We both sighed – she had similar memories too. There would be none of that anymore. But there still had to be something…

As I and everybody else were laughing at the boy chasing me around the classroom, it occurred to me… that could very well be the first time a boy hit me… on purpose, wishing to hurt and subdue me, not accidentally during some childish game. The thought made me angry and at the same time, pleased with my choice of gifts. He deserved it. In middle and primary school, we were a sort of dysfunctional family. We may not have all liked each other, but we always presented a united front when it came to evil doing and to defending ourselves from outsiders and adults. Also, no matter how deranged our behaviour may have been, a boy had never hit one of the girls; it was unacceptable, that’s how we had been raised, and we still had some of our innocence.

I sneered at my pursuer. A large desk was all that stood between us. He was scrawny, not too tall, but he still seemed stronger than I was. At that moment, I didn’t care. Want a piece of me? Come and get it. Let’s see how you like a girl who fights back…

I’d managed to keep the secret until the Christmas party. Only a few persons knew and we all agreed he needed to be taught a lesson. They were probably relieved I would take it upon myself. I didn’t mind having “difficult” conversations with teachers and pupils alike, and my new classmates seemed to enjoy hiding behind me… my old ones would have been right there, in the front line with me…

There’s probably no good way of telling someone that they stink… especially when subtle manoeuvres, like covered noses or refusing to go anywhere within 3 metres of them go unnoticed. Besides their obvious fear of water, soap and toothpaste, this person seemed to love consuming raw garlic and onions. It was becoming a general reason of embarrassment, teachers would squint and go open windows as soon as they entered our classroom. This was the person I had to shop for… and I instantly knew what my Secret Santa gift would be. It was perfect really… If you can’t beat them, join them… but do it in your own unique way.

His face lit up when he saw the beautifully wrapped gift and understood who his Secret Santa was. Apparently he liked me!? Who knew… who cared… He tore into the wrapping paper and into the box it was covering. By that time, many knew what he would find inside and they couldn’t wait to see his reaction. A large bar of soap, a brand new toothbrush and tooth paste to go with it, deodorant and a card saying, “See if you can put them to good use… Merry Christmas and a clean New Year!” spread on the floor as soon as he understood. Unexpected, surprisingly rude invectives were being yelled as he was trying to catch and punish his high heeled, no longer secret, Santa.

Everybody was still laughing when I stepped away from the desk, facing him defiantly. He tried to slap me, I moved and he lost his balance slightly. So I could grab his hand and twist his arm behind his back, as my best male friend had taught me to do. Just because our boys were civilized, that didn’t mean I didn’t know what the real world was like; and I was never afraid to defend myself.

Leave it to me to get the wrong order of things. Talk about adding injury to insult… Our small contretemps was terribly entertaining for everybody, but our form master decided it was time to end it. So I let go, he turned and grabbed my wrist… I grabbed his other wrist and there we were again. I may have mentioned something about his breath, he may have muttered some choice words to describe foul girls such as myself, until the other boys decided to remove him from the room. I was seething. Our form master was pale and surprised by the unexpected turn of events. Well, I told her Secret Santa was a bad idea…

He eventually apologized after our Christmas vacation and later I found out that domestic violence was the norm in his home. In my turn, I managed to convince my friends not to “discipline” him, when they saw my bruised wrist. Perhaps my bluntness should have known some boundaries… sometimes. I had taken care of everything; nevertheless, my friend insisted I practice my self-defence moves. I agreed.

Our form master didn’t give up on her Secret Santa habits, just as I didn’t give up on my cheeky gift-giving ways. I once gave my boyfriend a pacifier for his birthday, because he’d been such a baby during an argument; the real gift followed, of course. Then there was that bracelet around which I wrapped a whole ball of yarn, which I placed in a box with several other balls of yarn… and many, many, many others. I also had a great time as the recipient of similar gifts. I remember how much I laughed when a family friend offered his wife a beautiful ring he somehow managed to insert into an onion. It’s all about peeling layers…

We didn’t always afford to buy each other expensive presents, but my childhood friends and I never lost our sense of humour. Every stupid little thing we gave was from the heart and it reflected one very important aspect – we knew each other inside out. And when the outside world didn’t understand, accept or care about us, we had our own twisted, cheeky, warm little world helping us survive and grow. In that world, Santa was never a secret, open and free expression was revered, and a sense of humour was a must.

7 Replies to “Cheeky Gift-Giving”

  1. ahhhhh
    the ring in an onion – fun and – tears getting to it – ha
    and enjoyed the story (sorry about the wrist) and secret santas can be a bad idea for many reasons…. all the more in certain school settings – but in a way that was kind of a brilliant gift – even if mean – and bahhhhh to this: and a clean New Year!

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    1. I still laugh when I remember the ring in the onion story. Tears indeed 🙂 They had a son my age and I remember thinking it was sweet he was still trying to be creative and surprise her like that.
      After all these years, this Secret Santa is certainly not a bad memory… in fact, it’s a funny one, and it did teach me a few things. But it’s not for everyone… True, my mean streak definitely made an appearance on that particular occassion. There might have been more delicate ways to point out the problem 😀 but I didn’t often do “delicate” back then.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. the secret santa story does sound like a fun one – you portrayed that so well – with the youth aspect and also even imbued the way a youth processes during those times – at least I could feel that –
        and regarding delicate – well I think the word children comes to mind…
        and the whole “mood effect” or peer pressure is a powerful river – not always meaning we “bully” or would join in on tough things – but I think sometimes certain events are just a social byproduct combined with our ever developing sense of self and empathy learning etc. – ya know
        and I feel so bad that we called this one girl “pee woman” – I was not totally in on it – but did laugh – it is different from your story – but comes to mind

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        1. Whenever I write one of these pieces about childhood days I find that I can still remember not only the situations, but many of the feelings as well. I understood that’s something I should appreciate, when the mother of a fourteen year old was telling me she couldn’t remember much about the time she was a teenager. That’s a loss, I thought to myself…
          Other than that, let’s just say that my school days were in many ways “survival of the fittest”… Sure, many things were different than they are now, but just because they weren’t yet patented notions, that didn’t mean we didn’t have / weren’t “mean girls” and “bullies”.


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